It wouldn’t be unfair to say Gerard Houllier’s 40 signings as Liverpool boss were pretty hit and miss at times. But some of those hits go a long way to making up for the misses.
The French manager rid the Reds squad of the Spice Boys mentality and brought in several players who took the club to a different level, including a number of talents who formed the basis of Rafa Benitez’s Champions League-winning side in 2005.
You can’t get everything right, though, and Houllier had a fair few swings and misses, particularly in his early days in charge. We’ve tried to rank all 40 of the signings, from the worst to the best.
40. Frode Kippe
Norwegian defender Kippe was one of Houllier’s first signings and spent a full four years as a Liverpool player but didn’t even manage a single Premier League appearance in that time.
After 93 minutes spread across two substitute appearances in the league cup, he left for Lillestrøm in 2002 and is somehow still there.
39. Daniel Sjolund
Liverpool paid seven figures to bring Sjolund over from West Ham. The Hammers themselves had paid decent money to recruit the Finn, who made his professional debut at just 15.
He played zero games for the Reds and is now back at his first club, IFK Mariehamn.
38. Carl Medjani
A highly-rated centre-back, Medjani would have probably broken through if Houllier had stayed longer, but Benitez went his own way.
Having been in France’s Under-21 squad during his time at Anfield, Medjani went on to play for Algeria at two World Cups after eventually establishing himself at Ajaccio.
37. Patrice Luzi
Signed as a back-up goalkeeper and was called into action exactly once, keeping a 13-minute clean sheet in a win at Chelsea in 2004.
36. Paul Jones
Signed precisely to make sure Liverpool wouldn’t need to use Patrice Luzi in another league game, Jones played twice while Liverpool’s two first-choice goalkeepers were injured.
35. Jean-Michel Ferri
Houllier’s first Liverpool signing played *checks notes* 50 minutes for the club.
34. Bernard Diomede
£3million for a World Cup-winning winger sounds good. £3million for a player who plays five games for the club, less so.
33. Alou Diarra
A confusing one, this. Liverpool fought hard to sign Diarra from Bayern Munich in 2002, but he never managed to get on the pitch in a competitive game.
The defensive midfielder went on to captain France, and finally got his Premier League debut 10 years after moving to Anfield when Sam Allardyce brought him to West Ham.
32. Salif Diao
Despite scoring one of the all-time great World Cup goals in 2002, Diao rarely looked up to speed in a Liverpool shirt under Houllier or Benitez.
Only 19 of his 37 league games were starts, and he left on a free after running down his five-year contract via a couple of loan spells.
31. Pegguy Arphexad
Another back-up keeper, Arphexad was popular enough at Liverpool without ever featuring all that much.
Still, his record is pretty impressive: six wins from six games, with Liverpool scoring 27 goals in the fixtures in question.
30. Chris Kirkland
Kirkland was also used sparingly between the sticks, but that was never meant to be the plan.
Signed for £6million after impressing at relegated Coventry City, he played just one more Premier League game for Liverpool than he managed in a single season for the Sky Blues as injuries took their toll.
29. El-Hadji Diouf
It’s tough to know where to include Diouf in this, for fear of letting his unpopularity with swathes of Liverpool fans overshadow his actual on-pitch ability, but the truth is he was never that great for the Reds.
After scoring six goals in his first season, he didn’t manage to score any more, going a full season without finding the net. He did a lot better at Bolton, mind you.
28. Anthony Le Tallec
Another who was highly-rated before flattering to deceive, Le Tallec’s Player of the Tournament award at the Under-17 World Cup didn’t bring the first-team success many anticipated.
He scored just once for Liverpool but did top-score for Sunderland in a loan spell… with four Premier League goals.
27. Gregory Vignal
Vignal looked impressive early in his Liverpool career, but it’s hard to progress too far when you have someone like John Arne Riise ahead of you in the queue.
He only played 20 games all in all, which is far fewer than we expected when the Frenchman broke through as a teenager in the 2000-01 season.
26. Igor Biscan
Bišćan is often held up as one of the ‘even he was involved’ named of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League run, but he wasn’t as bad as it was made out.
The Croatian was… broadly fine. That’s it. But broadly fine shouldn’t be enough to make you one of Europe’s best.
25. Abel Xavier
He signed directly from Everton, which is always a bonus purely for the way it winds people up, but Xavier could have done more at Anfield.
The defender scored on his debut, but a year later he had already played his last game for the Reds after falling out with Houllier.
24. Christian Ziege
Another who played surprisingly few games for Liverpool, Ziege was on Merseyside for just one season before moving to Tottenham.
Liverpool won three trophies when the German was around, and he appeared in all three competitions, but 24 League Cup minutes was all he had to show from the trio of finals.
23. Nick Barmby
Never really happened for him, did it, despite joining from Everton in a move that generated plenty of noise.
Scoring against his former club helped, but he fell away badly in his second season before joining the long list of players who Leeds probably didn’t need to buy in the Ridsdale era.
22. Bruno Cheyrou
Houllier signed plenty of young French talents for Liverpool, and many of them flattered to deceive.
Cheyrou fits into this category, joining from Lille with high hopes but leaving having failed to fulfil them, even if a winner at Stamford Bridge was one of a few notable moments.
21. Florent Sinama Pongolle
See above. He did at least play and score in that Olympiakos game, though.
20. Erik Meijer
A popular player, even if he wasn’t the most prolific scorer, Meijer was praised by the club’s website for a “special rapport with the club’s supporters”.
Even in 2001, several months after leaving the club with just two goals to show for his efforts, Meijer joined Reds fans in the centre of Dortmund to take in their UEFA Cup final success.
19. Rigobert Song
Song started well but was sacrificed as part of the deal which brought Daniel Sjolund to Anfield.
Remember him? Keep scrolling up… keep going… a little more… there you are.
18. Djimi Traore
The own goal against Burnley will forever leave him marked out as a banter player, but Traore was better than that.
If we told you he played more than 100 games for Liverpool, would you believe us? Well, he did, and he scored one at the right end too. And then there’s the small matter of Istanbul.
17. Nicolas Anelka
Anelka should have been higher on this list, but Houllier opted against signing the Frenchman permanently due to the impending arrival of… El-Hadji Diouf.
His five-goal loan spell from PSG was impressive, but sadly many Liverpool fans will also remember him less fondly after a goal against them for Manchester City, helping ensure the Reds missed out on Champions League football in 2003-04.
16. Markus Babbel
Babbel looked to have a lengthy Liverpool career ahead of him after joining from Bayern Munich in 2000 and starting all three finals in the 2001 cup treble, opening the scoring against Alaves.
However, he was cruelly struck down with Guillain-Barre syndrome later that year and never rediscovered his form for the club upon his return.
15. Titi Camara
The Guinean striker only spent one season at Anfield but made good use of it, scoring some memorable goals including a winner at Arsenal.
He went on to become his country’s minister for sport. Obviously.
14. Harry Kewell
The forgotten man of the 2005 Champions League final, Kewell saw his Liverpool career blighted with injuries but performed well enough when he got a run of games together.
There was a very special goal against Everton along the way, too. Imagine what he might have done had he been able to stay healthy.
13. Sander Westerveld
A first-choice goalkeeper for a number of years, Westerveld’s Liverpool stint looks worse in retrospect by virtue of the way it finished.
The Dutch international had two full seasons as first choice, winning multiple trophies, but a blunder against Bolton in August 2001 saw him almost written out of history with the signing of two new keepers within a week.
12. Vladimir Smicer
Smicer will forever be remembered for his goal in the 2005 Champions League final, but he only entered that game as a substitute after falling down the pecking order, and that was the only goal he scored for his club that season.
The Czech winger was good in bursts, nothing more.
11. Stephane Henchoz
Henchoz wasn’t the most exciting footballer, but he was a big part of Liverpool’s resurgence in the early 2000s.
The Swiss centre-back helped usher in the Houllier era after joining from Blackburn, but injuries meant he bowed out with a whimper, playing just four games under Rafa Benitez and leaving – initially on loan – before the Champions League final success.
10. Milan Baros
Baros felt like he was going to do a lot more, but injuries came at the wrong time and he impressed more at international than club level.
That’s not to say he failed to make an impact, though: the Czech enjoyed two double-figure seasons, including a couple of goals in the 2004-05 Champions League run, and Houllier liked him enough to attempt to sign him for Lyon, only to leave before the move went through.
9. Djibril Cisse
Cisse never actually played for Houllier, despite his compatriot being instrumental in his arrival at Anfield.
His one full season under Rafa Benitez brought an impressive 19 goals, but he didn’t stick around as long as he might have done if Houllier stayed at the helm.
8. Jari Litmanen
Litmanen only spent 18 months at Liverpool but showed his undoubted talent in that brief time.
The former Ajax man was one of the most naturally gifted players to turn out for the Reds in Houllier’s time in charge, but fans will wish they’d been able to see more of him.
7. Gary McAllister
Having arrived for free as a 35-year-old, McAllister had no right to make it this high on the list, but the decision to snap him up was inspired.
His winner in the Merseyside Derby goes down in folklore, while it was his free-kick which brought the own goal to win the 2001 UEFA Cup final. A fantastic piece of business.
6. Steve Finnan
Finnan almost feels like a prototype James Milner for the way he acted as the glue for a great team without chasing the plaudits.
The Irishman played just one season under Houllier but came into his own under Benitez, starting Champions League finals in 2005 and 2007 before leaving Anfield in 2008 with more than 200 games under his belt.
5. Emile Heskey
Heskey was signed as one type of player and turned into another, but the one he became was still valuable.
The England striker finished on 60 goals in his four-and-a-half seasons, fewer than might have been expected, but brought the best out of Michael Owen in that period and will go down as a popular figure at Liverpool and other clubs.
4. Didi Hamann
Hamann is widely credited with making the difference in the 2005 Champions League final after entering at half-time, and won everything there was to win with the club.
There weren’t many goals in the German’s 250 games, but he was a vital presence in the middle of the park in a changing Reds squad, helping Steven Gerrard come through the ranks in the early part of the century.
3. Jerzy Dudek
His penalty save won Liverpool the Champions League. Do we really need to add anything here?
2. John Arne Riise
There aren’t many cases of £4.6million being better spent than the deal which took Riise to Liverpool from Monaco.
The left-back was almost instantly part of the furniture, and it felt like it stayed that way for a lifetime. The Champions League win is a highlight, naturally, but those thwacked free-kicks and long-range efforts were pretty sweet too.
1. Sami Hyypia
Sure £4.6million for Riise was a piece of brilliant business, but signing Hyypia for just £2.6million from Willem II absolutely takes the biscuit.
In his decade at Anfield, the defender won 10 trophies, made 450 appearances and stole the hearts of every Reds supporter.